Ashley Longshore has a brain for art — and business.
When New Orleans based artist Ashley Longshore sold her first piece of art to a gallery two decades ago. The gallery sold it, kept 50% of the profits. Longshore vowed to never let that happen again.
“Before all of this amazing social media, and the fact that artists are really able to now create their own empire, they were really dependent upon galleries to expose artwork to the masses. There was an industry standard of taking half from the artist. This happened to me once, very early in my career and I knew immediately, this does not feel right,” Longshore tells Moneyish.
She wanted 100%—and knew it was going to be a hard road without a gallery backing her. But she followed her instincts, painted like crazy, opened a gallery in New Orleans, and started selling directly to clients. She was making the art and handling the money too. She even began to hire employees.
“It’s super easy to sit back and to let someone handle all the marketing, sales, relationships. But what happens if that gallery closes? Who are my collectors? And I’m giving up 50%? I realized, my God, I want to do this myself. Eff the art world. They told me I wasn’t marketable,” Longshore, 43, says. “I sit back now as the artist in residence at Bergdorf Goodman thinking, ‘wow.’ For me there’s so much proof if you hustle hard enough, if you focus on the opportunities we do have, you can get to wherever the hell you want.”
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Oh and I painted 10 paintings in between meetings this week… time is my most precious commodity… painting brings me sooo much happiness. I got sooo tickled painting this Fashion Week series… SqUeezing a foot into a 5 inch strappy heel aint natural… but damn they are gorgeous…. i like imperfections and shit we can all relate to. A crazy toe, a blister, a spanx injury, a shart stain after a 4 day cleanse…. all of that….. i love you.Boom…. #popart #ashleylongshore #fuckyeah photo by @thealexandraarnold
The business side of art is so important, Wharton Business School reports, that they encourage artists to take classes to understand how to control their money. “There are more than 2 million artists in the U.S., and they have to survive somehow. According to data, we know that only 40% of them will remain as working artists within five years, and only 10% of them will persist in the long run. Without a business plan, they won’t get to practice their art in the near future, and that should be a warning sign,” the report estimates.
Longshore knew she only had “a certain number of days she can create,” and through word of mouth, she began growing a wealthy celeb clientele, making gorgeous bejeweled Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly paintings, along with jeweled butterflies, porcelain plates, and furniture with her sayings on them for Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, Eli Manning, and plenty of moneyed collectors in tech and finance.
Then Instagram came along and launched her into the stratosphere.
“It wasn’t about being Instafamous, Instagram is just a tool in the ultimate wheel of how to get yourself out there. But that said, it’s a free tool, and I use it,” she says, adding, “My commission is 100% mine. What that’s enabled me to do is to create a business with 21 employees and have a manufacturing company.”
How does she determine what a piece is worth?
“I follow the laws of economics,” she says, explaining that if she decides to price a piece at $300, and she makes five of them and sells all five quickly, she ups the price to $450. If those sell out again, she ups the price to $600. (Although her art now goes for much, much more, those are the prices she started with 24 years ago.) The more she sells of a particular print, the higher she marks it, and the less she makes of that particular piece. “I have followed that path throughout my career. I don’t believe in emotional pricing. I started off with a grid based on sizing [of the pieces], and it really is about supply and demand,” she adds.
Right now she’s working on a piece for Saudi Arabian royalty, which she says will sell for “a good six figures with a nice comma.”
When all that money comes back to her she feels “empowered,” she says, “I can take my ideas and make them a reality and I have the capital to do that.”
Unlike many creatives who can let the business side of things fall by the wayside (take Aretha Franklin who died without leaving a will for her $80 million estate), Ashley has also hammered out exactly what she wants for the future.
“I just wrote my will, I started a foundation for when I die, I’m buying real estate,” she says. “I wanna make sure my team is set up after I’m here. I’m also an avid art collector, I want there to be a space like The Frick where you can go and see the Longshore Art Collection.”
She even thinks business when she paints, wearing a Walkie-Talkie to communicate thoughts and tasks to her team.
“I’ll go ‘did you email so and so?’ ‘Get back to Beyonce’ and I’m just saying that because I’m manifesting Beyonce as a client,” she laughs. “But I’ll say ‘where are we on manufacturing, where are our corporate sponsors for our holiday release?’”
She’s since collaborated with Bentley, Anthropologie, Judith Leiber, and many others. She flies private whenever she wants. Of her entrepreneurial spirit, she says, “I love me some me and I’m gonna be able to take care of me.”
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